The next stage

Special to the New Abolitionist

By: Mumia Abu-Jamal

As the struggle for abolition seeks to broaden and deepen its appeal, it is, as always, informed by the struggles of the past, and faced with the challenges of the future.

The New Abolitionist, the journal of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, uses, as its official logo, both the visage and the words of that greatest of American abolitionists, Frederick Douglass, whose extraordinary life continues to impact us, well over a century after his passing.

His words, then and now, not just inform but inspire us to have new levels of struggle for greater freedoms, and true democracy.

Douglass warned us that, "Power conceded nothing without a demand...It never has...and it never will."

What does that mean for these days? What does it mean for today's abolition movement?

Reading Douglass, we must ask the obvious: where is the demand?

This is especially pertinent to the CEDP, which, as Chicago-based, is at the epicenter of the nation's presidential campaign (as the home state of the candidate, and the birth state of another).

Why not demand repeal of AEDPA?

This is not a pipe dream, for, to once again quote Douglass, "Without struggle, there is no progress."

The AEDPA (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996) works a strange alchemy in the law that is only seen in state criminal proceedings, in that it essentially insulates state court opinions from meaningful and full federal court review, and, further, orders Article III federal courts to show "deference" to state court proceedings.

This scheme, devised during the term of former President William J. Clinton (a former law professor--to boot!), was the ultimate elevation of state power over the federal constitution, forcing judges of the United States to be bound by the findings of courts of the separate states. State court judges often obtain their posts by blatantly political processes, presided over by party bosses and political shenanigans. What is the logic of elevating their fact-finding above that of an appointed judicial official, who is presumably immune from such processes? In what other area of the law does this process occur?

None other.

And there is good reason therefore; state judges are often elected to the bench, and thus are subject to the winds and whims of politics in crafting their opinions. Federal judges, while enbenched by an admittedly political process, have lifetime appointments, and are thus free to give full reign to their intellectual and judicial impulses.

To elevate one over the other essentially usurps the notion that the federal Constitution (and treaties entered into, thereunder) is "the Supreme Law of the Land..." (Art. VI; S2 -- U.S. Constitution).

The recent Jon Burge scandal (where nearly a dozen men on death row were tortured by then-Lt. Jon Burge, many into giving false confessions), if it proves anything, shows the impossibility of the local elected judiciary and executive to fairly and fully adjudicate the flawed, and indeed, criminal processes of the state and county systems. For how can the system investigate the system? Almost forgotten now, what did the Greylord scandal prove, if not the intrinsic imbalances in the state judiciary? Judges sold justices to the highest bidder and did the bidding of their political bosses.

The underlying principle of the AEDPA was politics, the political forces of the prosecutors to protect their political futures by insulation of cases won through unconstitutional and patently unfair means. In a sense, it is the classical, political solution to a problem: change the law, instead of changing the corrupt, improper and unjust conditions that happen in every courtroom in the land.

This presidential election will be closely fought, no matter who the parties nominate.

They can ill afford to alienate the millions of Black, Latino and poor people who are deeply concerned about the fundamental issues of justice and fairness in the nation's courtrooms. Who can sanely deny that AEDPA has placed a thumb on the scales of justice, and turned the state and federal systems on their head?

To those who are legally oriented, there is no shortage of legal theory with which to battle this imposition on the rights of the People, under the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution expressly states, "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it" (Art. I; Sect. 9.2).

If an Article III (or federal) court may not hear, analyze or resolve a state case arising from an elected judiciary, based upon a claimed violation of the Constitution, or must defer to the findings of a state judge, what is that but a "suspension" of the writ of habeas corpus, and thus is unconstitutional?

And when is the time to demand it, if not now?

"Power concedes nothing without a demand!" Frederick Douglass, the nation's preeminent abolitionist, left lessons for us all in the struggles to make the nation abide by the Constitution, especially to the descendants of American slaves.

Politics is the struggle to change our present political dynamic. It happens when people, organized, engaged and committed, make it happen.

This struggle must learn from those ancestors, to push the struggle forward, to make change more than a cheap political slogan.

When families of death row captives go to rallies, raise the question: "Are you going to repeal AEDPA?

Don't mourn. Organize.

April 8, 2008 

Mumia Abu Jamal, #AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370

Copyright 2008, Mumia Abu-Jamal